Former National Champ Thelen snags European Senior Tour double

Tim Thelen
Getty Images
Tim Thelen, winner of the 2000 and 2003 PGA Professional National Championship, has been victorious in back-to-back weeks on the European Senior Tour.
PGA of America

Series: PGA

Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 | 3:36 p.m.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Tim Thelen's European Senior Tour dream continued in Switzerland, July 8, as he captured a second victory in just seven days at the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open. It was just his sixth start on the circuit.

After riding a double eagle and late birdies in Germany the week before to hold off the challenge of Bernhard Langer, Peter Fowler, Barry Lane and Mark Mouland, the two-time PGA Professional National Champion from College Station, Texas, carried his momentum to the Golf Club Bad Ragaz just southeast of Zurich, and resisted the charge of former Ryder Cup Captains Ian Woosnam and Mark James.

Thelen, 51, finished with a 3-under-par 67 to take home the €42,000 first prize. Overall, Thelen climbed from 21st to second in the European Senior Tour Order of Merit standings. In a span of two weeks, he has earned €120,298, which is $147,786. Thelen's victory in Germany, his career largest payday, was worth nearly $88,000.

"I could get used to this feeling," said Thelen, who arrived home Monday night after his whirlwind travel. "I don't know what it is about the months of June and July, but they have been very good to me over the years, including the PGA Professional National Championship.

"I do know that if I had not received a phone call from the late Bob Boyd in 2009, encouraging me to try the European Senior Tour, I would not be where I am today and wondering what would come next. I am proud to be still paying my dues as a PGA of America member, and have looked to join my Section friends for more golf. I have a busy summer ahead, but it is fun to be home and hear English spoken on television. My wife, Lucinda, and I had to laugh last week. We stayed up and watched 'Jaws,' which was in German."

Lucinda Thelen caddied for her husband during his European tour, as she has for years in the PGA Professional National Championship.

Thelen's posted a 54-hole total of 12-under-par 198 at Bad Ragaz secured a two-stroke win over James, with Woosnam a further shot back in third.

"It is pretty amazing to play as good as I did a second week, and on a course that did not fit my game," said Thelen, the 2000 and 2003 PGA Professional National Champion. "It was set up for a player who draws the ball. But, I was still putting incredibly well, and somehow it all came together. This past week, I faced great players like Mark James and Ian Woosnam, and the week before it was Bernhard Langer, Peter Fowler and Barry Lane and others.

"When I started out on this tour, I did not know what to expect," said Thelen. "I knew that I could compete, but like on any Tour, the hardest thing is to win. Two weeks ago, I played so bad in the Netherlands in the rain, and lost my golf swing.

"When I got to Munich, I found an unbelievable practice facility. I spent a lot of time there and found something that worked for the weekend. When I got to the golf course I felt very comfortable."

Thelen took a three shot lead into the final round at Bad Ragaz and looked to be cruising to victory with three birdies in his opening six holes. His cancelled out his bogey on the seventh by picking up a shot on the next hole, but dropped shots at the tenth and 12th allowed Woosnam and James to chance to mount a final challenge.

Former Masters Champion Woosnam birdied the 15th and 16th to briefly get within a shot of Thelen, but it was James who provided the more serious challenge, as the Englishman picked up three shots in the last four holes to pile the pressure on Thelen.

But like last week, Thelen responded with emphatic positivity, birdieing the 15th before a piercing seven iron to 15 feet enabled him to roll home a birdie two on the 17th to give him a two shot lead coming down the last.

"I looked at the leaderboard on the 16th and saw I had a two shot lead," said Thelen. "Then Mark birdied the last to cut the lead to one, so that 7-iron on 17 really was a fabulous shot. Making that birdie putt was a big moment too because it gave me a cushion to play the last."

Thelen made a comfortable par on the 18th to put the seal on another memorable performance, before receiving congratulation by many of his fellow Senior Tour Members. Among those greeting him were legends Sir Bob Charles and Gary Player – who continue to amaze the world of golf with their unbelievable levels of performance.

Charles's first round 66 in Bad Ragaz saw the New Zealander better his age by a Senior Tour record of ten shots, while Player's scores of 72-70-71 were a testament to the nine-time Major Champion's fitness and competitive drive. Charles added a 73 and a 72 to his remarkable first round to finish the week at one over par – two ahead of Player – and in a tie for 42nd place.

Thelen's triumph on July 1 at the Berenberg Bank Masters 19 miles west of Munich will rank as the most amazing maiden victory for a European Senior Tour member.

Thelen produced three birdies in his closing four holes to card a 4-under-par 68 and close out his first victory at the Golfclub Wörthsee. He was presented the Berenberg Masters trophy by tournament Ambassador Player.

"To beat these guys – real legends of the game – makes it so special to win here. It feels amazing and I actually can't believe it right now. Guys like Bernhard Langer, Barry Lane, Peter Fowler and Mark Mouland are real legends of the game. When you look at what they have done, what they have won around the world it really puts in into perspective."

The modest Thelen may have a point when analyzing the careers of his nearest final-round challengers, but for four hours on a Sunday afternoon in Germany, he outplayed them all.

His final round featured an "albatross." He holed out a 6-iron approach from 192 yards for a double eagle-2 on the par-five. He suffered an immediate setback with a double bogey at the next hole, but he steadied himself after a birdie on the third and, after back-to-back bogeys on the fifth and sixth, he played some stunning golf. He holed 20-foot birdie putts on the ninth and 10th before that storming finish of three birdies in his closing holes secured him a three-stroke victory over Fowler, Lane and Mouland, with Langer a further shot back on 11-under.

Thelen earned his berth on the European Senior Tour last fall by capturing medalist honors in the qualifying tournament. He will head back on the road in two weeks to compete in the Senior British Open and from Aug. 17 through Sept. 23, compete for six consecutive weeks.

"As I said before, this still doesn't seem believable – someone might have to come up and slap me just to make sure this has happened," said Thelen.